The Making of a Million-Dollar Boutique Confection Shop
When Rosie O’Neill and Josh Resnick started Sugarfina in 2012 with the whimsical idea that grown-ups deserve their own candy store, they had no idea their boutique confection line would resonate as it did with other adults. In only four years, Sugarfina has opened in 18 free-standing U.S. retail locations, and 13 shop-in-shop stands in Nordstroms across the U.S. and Canada. It has also become a fixture at U.K.’s premium department store Harvey Nichols, and formed several wholesale partnerships with top retailers in the luxury, hospitality, and fashion sectors.
Sugarfina carries more than 150 different types of sweets, selected by the founders, from chocolate-coated salty sweet bites to fruity chewy gummies. In keeping with its position as the “ultimate candy store for grown-ups,” Sugarfina also offers a signature candy cocktail line featuring sweets made with liquors ranging from champagne to rum and bourbon. When the company launched “Rosé All Day Bears” — gummy bears infused with rosé wine — in late June, the product went viral, selling out in under two hours. The company says that thousands of people are still on a waitlist, hoping to have their gummy bears shipped by mid-August.
Sold in bento box-style units for a minimum of $7.50 each, Sugarfina’s sweets are on the pricy side. But Sugarfina positions itself a bit like like a luxury jeweler or haute-couture atelier, justifying its prices by precising the design of each candy ball, not to mention that of the in-store experience. The store decor features sparkling white shelves and display stands, accented by its branded mint blue. Sugarfina’s brick-and-mortar stores are a rethinking of what adults would want in a candy store: spare and elegant rather than garish and overcrowded.
Sugarfina’s candies are known for their deeply-hued pastel colors, cute shapes, and beautiful packaging, but O’Neill and Resnick have focused much of their attention on taste. Unlike mass production candies, which tend to be produced using mechanical processes and distributed through mass marketers, the company works directly with artisan candy makers around the world who develop bespoke candies for Sugarfina. As O’Neill explained in an interview with NewsCenter.io, she and Resnick uncovered these specialty partners in the early days of Sugarfina, when they travelled widely, particularly around Europe, sampling and taste-testing hand-crafted gourmet sweets made with local ingredients. The majority of Sugarfina’s candies cannot be found elsewhere in the U.S — Bella Rosa, for example, is a type of hard candy made only in Italy using pure Italian rosewater.
O’Neill values Sugarfina’s partnerships with these artisan candy makers not just because they help the candy boutique produce unique, high-quality products. She also hopes that her company will play a role helping to preserve traditional craftsmanship in candy making, which is increasingly challenged by today’s big factory candy makers. O’Neill takes pride in the fact that Sugarfina has become the largest client of many of its manufacturers, overwhelmingly local small businesses and family shops in countries like The Netherlands and Greece.
The company currently has 250 employees, including 45 in its Los Angeles office. Last year, revenue reached $7 million, an
amount that O’Neill says will triple by the end of this year. While Sugarfina’s success to date has had much to do with the quality of its candies, the two founders’ business backgrounds has helped the company scale and pivot at key moments. Resnick has an MBA from Wharton Business School and subsequently built a video game company, Pandemic, which was acquired for $860 million. O’Neill earned her MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management, later working for Mattel’s Barbie for more than seven years. O’Neill joined Mattel when the doll line was in decline, and she was part of the team that turned the business around and grew it by 40 percent. In her interview with NewsCenter.io, O’Neill said jokingly that “Mattel was my second MBA,” pointing to the many entrepreneurship lessons that resulted from launching more than 150 Barbie-related product SKUs in a single year.
Sugarfina will open a new flagship boutique store in New York City’s iconic World Trade Center later this month. Asked about the company’s five-year plan,O’Neill said, “A month at Sugarfina feels like three years since we are growing so fast and things are moving so quickly. So it’s really hard for me to predict five years from now.” But she made it clear the company is thinking about possible extensions to its product lines, including additional types of confections and sweets, and exploring locations outside the U.S., particularly in Asia.